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a window into zealandia

Te Riu-a-Māui / Zealandia – a submerged and long hidden continent that straddles both the Indo-Australian and Pacific Plates. Years of research have led to convincing evidence of its existence. 

Peaking out of the sea is the nation of New Zealand – the highest part of the continent.  The geology of New Zealand tells the story of the formation of Zealandia – and gives us a new appreciation of the super forces that pull apart lands, create mountain ranges and for the life that was here but is no longer. 


Explore the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark, a window into Zealandia.

The origin and meaning of the name Te Riu-a-Māui (GNS Science):

Te Riu-a-Māui literally means the hills, valleys and plains of Māui - the great East Polynesian ancestor explorer of the Pacific Ocean. Riu means hull (of a canoe), basin (like the Waikato basin), a belly, the core (of a body). It is the whole that holds the parts together. 

Māui is an ancestor of all Polynesians. He sailed and explored the great ocean and caught the fish which he and his crew pulled up. The fish became many of the islands we know today. The name Te Riu-a-Māui brings together traditional oral narratives and geological science.

Interesting Zealandia facts:


  • Zealandia formed at the very edge of Gondwana, mostly during the Permian-Jurassic

  • Zealandia separated from Australia and Antarctica during the breakup of Gondwana during the Late Cretaceous

  • The opening of the Tasman Sea created oceanic crust that separated Zealandia from Australia – the narrowest part (Cato Trough) is only 25km across!

  • Zealandia is 4.9 million km2 (⅔ the size of Australia)

  • 94% of Zealandia is submerged under the sea. Aoraki/Mt Cook in the Southern Alps is the very highest part of Zealandia at 3724 metres above sea level

  • The Waitaki River “the tears of Aoraki” has its headwaters in the Southern Alps – nourishing the Waitaki Valley with its life force

  • Zealandia is the 8th continent on earth – it is the youngest, thinnest and most submerged continent


Thoughts to take away:

  • Can you imagine if all the water drained from the oceans what would the landscape look like…who would live there?

  • Take an imaginary trip in a super submarine to the bottom of the ocean floor and explore Zealandia with its mountains and valleys.  What would you see…what underwater cities could exist, how would people live? 

  • What do you think about New Zealand now and the decisions we make about our impact on our environment – knowing it’s only a very small part of a large submerged continent?

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Learning resources for teachers and parents:

Check out our free worksheet on Gondwana and Zealandia.

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